Written by Benjamin Cavell
Directed by Jon Avnet
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX
It’s been a pretty dark week for lovers of fine TV drama, and Justified compounds the issue with one of their grimmest episodes ever. “The Toll” doesn’t do much to clarify exactly what this season has been about, or make the Crowes a more compelling central force, but it at least shakes up the dynamics enough to make for a season endgame that…well, frankly, I have no idea will consist of, beyond the Raylan v. Daryl Jr. element.
Two major acts of violence punctuate the episode, though only one of them really works to raise the stakes. The first, and the most obviously game-changing, is the shooting of Art. Just to get it out of the way: I highly doubt Art is headed for the big Chief’s Chair in the sky just yet, but that doesn’t rob the event of its shock value. While the act – most likely committed by Daryl Jr., though there’s still time for Justified to further complicate matters – is brutal enough to give these last episodes a littlemore juice, there had better be a payoff more satisfying than simply a tit-for-tat resolution with the Crowes on the losing end. The twist does give Justified‘s writers a new chance to harness the storytelling power of chaos, which they excel at; watching the Marshals scramble to determine the correct response to each new revelation is stirring stuff. (Tonin attempting to “confess” and pin the murder on Picker: a nice touch, though having an actual scene with Adam Arkin would have been preferable.)
Speaking of Picker, his fate turns out to be the impetus for what must be the bloodiest scene in Justified history. In a rare instance of Justified overplaying its hand, there’s perhaps two or three too many instances of Boyd referencing his “newfound” smoking habit; the initial scene would have sufficed to know Boyd has a crazy handful of nothin’ up his sleeve. That robs the scene in question of a fair amouunt of its impact. All that taken into consideration, it’s still one hell of a sequence on its own; the blend of practical effects and CGI is almost seamless, especially for a low-budget series. Taken as a part of the whole,however, this latest escalation is a little on the aimless side. With the Boyd-Ava connection now rendered somewhat tenuous, it’s hard to be invested in Boyd’s criminal enterprise at the moment. More than ever, it’s safe to say there is no Dairy Queen franchise in Boyd’s future.
The small moments in between mostly work. The unexpected highlight is a scene between two supporting characters, one of whom we’ve just met: David Vasquez and Catherine Hale. I wrote last week that Steenburgen didn’t quite feel at home in the world of Justified in her first appearance; perhaps she came off a hair too studied. That’s no issue this week, and her interplay with Rick Gomez is a comic highlight in an otherwise pitch-black episode. Art and Allison’s exchange prior to his shooting serves as further evidence that she’s the most reasonable, pleasant, level-headed woman – nay, human – in Justified history.
Despite the obvious memorability of the proceedings, I remain unconvinced that we’ve been handed a truly compelling final act. While it’s lovely and appropriate to see Rachel being handed the reigns of the Marshals office – which I strongly doubt we’ll see her let go of before the series ends – what’s really missing remains the viewer relationship with Raylan, who even this week seems at arm’s length from the explosive events taking place around him. The aloofness and self-nullification make sense to a point, but at this point, it’s time for some new notes from the character. Olyphant’s deference as a performer and producer in allowing the entire cast an opportunity to shine has been a gift to the show, but he’ll need to reassert Raylan’s position as protagonist if the series” final arcs are going to function at all.